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Africa Fact Sheet - The Great Lakes Region

Africa Fact Sheet - The Great Lakes Region

1 May 2000

Despite efforts by the Organization of African Unity to encourage the warring parties to implement the Lusaka Peace Accord signed in July last year, the conflict rages on across the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.N. Security Council is waiting for a break in the hostilities before giving the green light to the deployment of a 5,500 peacekeeping force that was authorized in February.

Fighting between rebel and government forces in the vicinity of Mbandaka, in Equatorial Province, has prompted more than 25,000 civilians to seek asylum on the other side of the Ubangui river, around Impfondo in the Republic of Congo. Refugees are spread along a 400 km stretch of the river. Access to this group is only possible by boat and delivery of humanitarian assistance has proved extremely difficult. UNHCR has had staff in Impfondo on a permanent basis since February.

The deteriorating situation in eastern South Kivu Province has virtually cut off the area from humanitarian access. Mai Mai militia and anti-Kinshasa Banyamulenge forces have clashed repeatedly. Villages in the Fizi area, south of Uvira, are regularly plundered and civilians forced to flee towards Tanzania. In addition, an estimated number of 20,000 Burundians who fled the civil war in their own country, are spread out in the area, left without assistance and protection. In the last year, 20,000 Congolese have fled fighting in Katanga Province, farther south along Lake Tanganyika, to seek asylum in Zambia.

Despite the fighting that has split the DRC in two, Angolan refugees have moved into the country to escape their own civil war. Camps and villages around Kisenge in Katanga now host 22,000 newly-arrived Angolans in addition to an older caseload of 25,000. In Bas Congo, Kimpese camp has swelled with 20,000 recent arrivals on top of its existing population of 45,000, and Kahemba in Kasai has grown to 8,000 refugees.

In a positive development, the improvement of humanitarian conditions since the cease-fire in the neighbouring Republic of Congo has allowed UNHCR staff to close refugee reception facilities in the Bas Congo area. Of the 6,000 people established in Luozi in the Bas Congo, 3,000 have already returned and it is planned that the whole caseload will return by the end of the year.

In the north-east, no new military operations from the SPLA rebel group in Sudan were reported, but assistance is still provided by UNHCR to some 72,000 Sudanese refugees in the area of Dungu and Aba.

In his new role as mediator for the peace talks, former South African President Nelson Mandela has multiplied sessions at the Burundi peace process and brought more groups to the negotiating table. The number of Burundi estimated to be displaced in their own country stands at two million, while the influx of Burundi refugees in Tanzania recently climbed as high as 23,000 in a single month. The peak was registered in January, and since then the number of crossings registered has dropped steadily to just 1,200 for the month of April.

According to the latest arrivals, the decline is due mainly to an increase in fighting in the border area and the mining by the governmental army of routes to Tanzania.

Tanzania currently hosts more than 480,000 refugees on its territory: 352,000 Burundians, 104,000 Congolese (DRC) and 24,000 Rwandans. Existing camps are nearing capacity and UNHCR is continuously updating its contingency plans and response capacity.